New Delhi: On a recent morning, Ashwani Kumar and Pradeep Kumar, both 22, walked into an employment exchange in south Delhi to apply for what millions of Indians aspire for: a government job.
Sons of government officers, the two grew up together, graduated from Delhi University, and in December, quit their jobs as typists in a private hospital preparing discharge forms for patients for Rs7,000 a month.
Testing the waters: Kapil Bhagat was selected from a Delhi employment exchange by Orion Calltech as part of a new private-public initiative, and is now undergoing training in spoken English and communication. Madhu Kapparath / Mint
“The hours were long. There has been no salary increase in two years and we did not get a day off without taking a pay cut,” Ashwani Kumar said. “Who says private jobs pay more? In the government, at least your life is set because you have a job for life.”
These childhood friends are among at least 500,000 people who have registered their names across Delhi’s nine employment exchanges till October, in search of a government job that brings with it a sense of security. But with few government jobs on offer, many of these applications, such as the ones at this exchange in RK Puram, end up in rows of rusty iron boxes in a corner room.
And the 500,000 number itself tells a story.
It’s a cumulative number: Since 1945, at least 500,000 people have registered themselves at these employment exchanges, earlier known as the directorate general of resettlement and employment. The directorate was broken up into multiple exchanges in 1999.
Across the country, the corresponding number for 965 exchanges is 46 million till October.
Some of the 46 million may have found jobs on their own, a few may have emigrated, and a few others may have passed on.
But the exchanges have had little success: They have found jobs for a mere 260,000. That’s a success rate of 0.56%.
The Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, considered the toughest B-school in the world in terms of gaining admission, has a better strike rate: 100%.
Employment exchanges were first established to help resettle soldiers returning to civilian life after World War II, and later to find employment for those who were displaced by Partition. Over the years, they have lost relevance as several states have set up their own recruitment boards to fill local posts for everything from teachers to public transport drivers, bypassing these exchanges.
A 1996 Supreme Court ruling, which allowed the private sector to hire employees from outside employment exchanges, was a further blow to these exchanges.
Now, amid a slowing economy and job losses in the private sector, a government job with perks such as subsidized housing and medical care is an attractive option for many job aspirants. “The employment exchanges are meant to be clearing houses for the labour market. But unfortunately, there are not too many jobs to give,” said an official in the labour ministry, who declined to be identified.
According to data provided by Delhi’s labour department, of the 500,096 job aspirants registered with employment exchanges in the city, only 107 people got jobs in 2007 and 16 in 2008. Out of 74,003 new applications received in 2007, not more than 105 received placement letters. Meanwhile, the number of new applicants has kept rising; about 57,784 were filed in the first 10 months of 2008.
But officials such as K.S. Wahi, labour commissioner and director of employment in the Delhi state government, are still optimistic. “Employment exchanges have not lost (their) relevance,” said Wahi, pointing out that the city has to deal with the additional burden of rising number of migrants who arrive in the city seeking jobs. “You could say it’s out of synchronization.”
The Delhi labour department has enlisted the private sector’s support to make the employment exchanges more effective. It is testing the waters with a private-public initiative to help job seekers. For example, it has tied up with Orion Calltech, a call centre training institute with 140 centres across the country, to both train and offer guaranteed placements in private firms.
Bhavya Sharma, the head of one of Orion’s centres located in north Delhi, said the agreement is based entirely on requirement and the number of placement orders it gets from its customers, mostly retail chains, financial services companies and call centres. The applicants who went through the employment exchange have received a three-month training in spoken English at a fee of Rs4,500, she said.
There were valid reasons for approaching the exchange, she said. “We find that many of the applicants at the exchange offer genuine information about themselves.”
Besides, “we found that many of them have proper qualifications. Some are even pursuing MBAs”, she added.
Sharma said interview calls were sent out to at least 1,000 candidates registered at Delhi’s exchanges, out of which 70 responded. Finally, 49 got selected for further training. About 10 candidates have already found employment at different private companies, while another 34 are awaiting suitable jobs; four are currently undergoing training.
Among those who got selected is Kapil Bhagat, a shy 23-year-old who had applied for a government job at the exchange around three years ago. “I like the retail business,” said Bhagat, who once had worked with a small-time distributor, selling sweets to shopkeepers. He is currently undergoing a two-hour-a-day training in spoken English and communication at Orion.
“Employment exchanges have not been very useful in either estimating unemployment in the country or in matching jobs and people,” says T. S. Papola, part-time member of the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector.
Under Indian laws, employment exchanges do not guarantee jobs but provide assistance in securing a job by informing job hunters about vacancies and conducting vocational training courses.
With fewer vacancies to announce, employment exchanges such as the one in RK Puram have mostly begun putting up notices for temporary jobs, such as sweepers or construction labourers.
For example, every Tuesday and Friday, Anita (who gave only her first name), a plumber’s wife with four children, visits the exchange to check for vacancies for a cleaner. She previously held a similar job at the Union health ministry, earning Rs142 a day, but is now without work as the three-month contract came to an end.
She said she has been looking for a job for some time, and was disappointed last week when she did not get selected for a construction labourer’s job at the city’s meteorological department that was paying Rs165 a day. There were 63 applications for 16 vacancies.
“It feels bad,” said Anita. “But I will keep trying.”